Archive for the 'Blaxploitation' Category

Apr 13 2009

A blast from the horrid, horrid past

Published by under Blaxploitation,Comedy

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

I’d like you to watch 3:50-4:05 of this clip. There appears to be a noticeable plot hole here. Can you spot it? (Answer below).

Got it?

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Apr 29 2008

A bizarrely amusing fan-made music video

Published by under Blaxploitation,Comedy

Someone used The Sims 2 to make a music video for the Men in Black theme. Normally, I think efforts like this are hackish. But this one was quite funny, particularly from :48-55. If you were writing the script for the music video, it would be like casting IRS agents as dancers and then telling them to improvise Thriller.

I also found the series of bunny hops at around 1:25 perversely amusing.

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Dec 15 2007

Black Ops

TO:  HUMAN RESOURCES

FROM:  RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

The viability of meeting federal diversity requirements with inorganic means

Situation recap: Staffing issues unique to the Office of Special Investigations, like a strong base of nonhuman applicants, render it difficult to meet congressional standards on (human) minority employment.

Furthermore, it displeases Congress greatly that recruiters (apparently regardless of their race) appear to pass over African-American candidates. The Civil Rights Commission guidelines has ruled that avoiding life insurance claims is not a valid reason to discriminate on the basis of race…

In the 1980s, Research and Development had been working on PROJECT ROBOT, a series of combat-androids. We discontinued the program after field tests in Nicaragua revealed that our prototype was a sociopathic Sandinista that had been plotting to escape for years, but we have resolved that bug. As a temporary solution to contemporary issues, we can resume production of the androids with several specs relevant to HR’s goals.

  1. Variant skin-tones
  2. Variant dialects– including “Will Smith” and “Bernie Mac” (However, OSHA regulations have forced us to suspend testing of “Chris Tucker”).

I present to you PROJECT BROBOT. Let me suggest a few guidelines about using the androids.

  1. We hosted several European scientists last week. One of the prototypes heard several of them speaking in Spanish. He became very… odd. I would highly recommend not putting them in a Spanish-heavy environment. In fact, I would recommend not letting them out of the office at all.
  2. Leaving them within easy access of scissors or staplers could be problematic. (Or coffee-pots. They are remarkably resourceful).
  3. If at all possible, I would recommend giving each robot a bodyguard unit, ideally armed with electromagnetic weaponry (in case other robots attack?).

Additionally, we have noticed that Brobots have a considerably shorter lifespan than the control group. Researchers on the floor above us are conducting acoustical research. We learned that when their piano crashed through the ceiling, discontinuing work on Prototype 7-B. In another incident, a guard adjusted his belt and accidentally knocked off his holster, causing his pistol to hit the ground and discharge a bullet. Prototype 4-C will be missed.

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Nov 27 2007

Black Superheroes and Writing Fiction About Racism

ABC did a story called Why Black Superheroes Succeed– and Fail. That’s interesting for whites writing black characters (or vice versa) or those wondering why some characters are popular and others aren’t.

I think black superheroes tend to fail because they get typecast as persecuted heroes. Even the article confuses two very separate ideas.

  1. The article’s first sentence: “Would Spider-Man be the box-office juggernaut he is today if he had been created as an African-American character?” All other things being equal, would a successful hero become unsuccessful if he is made black?
  2. The article’s second sentence: “What if Peter Parker had had to deal with the problems of being black in America in addition to adjusting to his powers when he was first introduced in 1962?” Would a successful hero become unsuccessful if white-on-black persecution were inserted into his plotline?

These two questions are very different! The second implicitly assumes that a black hero must face white-on-black persecution, which probably makes less sense now than it did in 1962. And, regardless of whether it is plausible that every black is persecuted by whites, persecution stories are usually depressing (particularly when the persecution is based on real-life events, rather than hating mutants or Muggles). Making the hero the victim of persecution changes the tone of the plot far more than just making him black.

Do black heroes have to be persecuted? I don’t think so. Most young people, especially, haven’t lived with the intense and highly visible racism of the 1960s, but the comics industry doesn’t seem to have caught on to that. Plot elements that were commonplace (or at least plausible) fifty years ago, like racial violence and particularly caustic racist remarks, often seem outlandishly cynical now.

If you do focus on racism, I recommend using elements of racism that are likelier to resonate with your readers circa now. People might step away in hallways and elevators or sit at different tables in cafeterias—I think that most readers would agree that’s how racism manifests right now more than, say, burning crosses and even racial slurs. More provocatively, someone might suggest that a minority has gotten where he is because of affirmative action or that affirmative action hires as a whole are less qualified than other employees. Bank guards might get antsy. Etc. (For some more manifestations of modern racism, please see the footnotes).

The point is that modern racism has become subconscious—I suspect that most racists genuinely believe that they aren’t— and that portraying racism as in-your-face, 1960s slurs will likely feel out of touch and preachy to your readers.

When I watched Crash, I laughed so hard when a car crash caused people to immediately start screaming slurs. Wouldn’t you, uhh, want to get their insurance information first? NO CUZ KKKALIFORNIA IZ RACIST. Crash wants to Make A Point and comes off as totally cartoonish.

Freedom Writers portrays a racially balkanized community much more plausibly.

If you feel the need to include intense racism in your work—something that will significantly affect the tone and marketability of your piece—Freedom Writers offers a pretty good model. It treats racism more seriously.

  1. FW is set in a school district with some really poor areas. Meeting basic, everyday needs is a struggle.
  2. Gangs and ghettos form as an attempt to form communities to meet those needs.
  3. Intense, Hobbesian struggles and racism arise as the communities clash.

FW suggests that racism arises from economics*. That offers FW’s world a sort of grim, perverse logic. FW’s world is deep—you see where the racism came from and why it is so damn hard to overcome. Readers understand economic motives and how much money matters, especially if you have very little. Readers won’t sympathize with race-based gangs, but they will appreciate that tolerance is a harder choice than they thought. That raises the stakes and makes the heroes larger-than-life.

In Crash, racism just sprouted from nowhere and persists despite economic concerns. Insulting someone rather than getting their insurance information is irrational. Furthermore, the story offers no explanation why the characters would think it’s rational. Why are characters intolerant? Because they’re emotional, maybe. That seems flimsy and unsatisfying. It also gives the story an arbitrary feel– the characters couldn’t overcome racism at the story’s start, so how are they able to at the end? It would feel much more logical if we knew why racism was a problem at the start.

Footnotes

*Although some sociologists do agree with Freedom Writers that racism is primarily rooted in economics, they’re in the minority. But that doesn’t matter– Freedom Writers feels coherent and plausible anyway.  99% of your audience has no idea what most sociologists think, so it’s the feeling that matters.

More modern racism

For the purposes of helping you write, I’ll broadly define racism as anything that might create discomfort or division along racial lines.

1) Affirmative action. I actually already mentioned this before, but I think it’s particularly useful because blacks and whites often strongly disagree not only about AA but about which statements/opinions about AA are socially acceptable. For example, in one class a white student discussing AA made the (not extremely controversial?) assertion that race influences faculty hiring decisions. This offended the black professor, who may have thought that the white was insinuating he was less qualified. The professor asked, “do you think I was hired because I’m black?” The white was taken aback by that point-black, personal question about what he probably perceived to be an impersonal, general statement. He said that he thinks that the professor’s being black was a factor.

As the author, you could paint this a few ways. Maybe the student is wrong to treat the issue impersonally, maybe the professor was being oversensitive, or that there’s just a gap in understanding between the white and the black that doesn’t suggest anything negative about either.

2) Whites saying “sup” to black peers. In terms of awkward hilarity, this is one of my favorites. Whites often feel pressured to act differently with blacks. You might chalk this up to insensitivity and/or oversensitivity. Saying “sup” probably isn’t sinister, but it may create tension because the black knows that the white is acting differently because he’s talking to a black. In a related example (one I can hopefully offer without making a political point), Hillary Clinton once adopted a painfully bad drawl when speaking before a black audience.

3) Subways, trains and buses. I’ve noticed that people (including nonwhites) strongly prefer to sit by people of the same race. Visual media, like comic books, have some fantastic opportunities for some grim humor by showing a black (or white?) sitting alone in a crowded bus like he has leprosy or something. However, I’ve never seen anyone change seats to specifically move away from someone of a different race.

4) The assumption that whites and blacks have substantially different skills, traits or tastes.

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